Updated: Oct 1
What’s the difference between a handmade natural skincare product and a product that has been made in a pharmaceuticals factory? Apart from the obvious difference between the ingredients, (see my previous post), natural products can feel and behave differently.
A factory-made cream is likely to feel lighter, more whipped, more refined. It may have a sheen to it from a chemical pearlising additive. Its perfume will linger longer. It will usually be absorbed very quickly. It may need to be reapplied after several hours. The pot may well be elegant and the labelling printed directly onto it. It may be packaged in a box for additional presentation. Its overall image is as important - or more so - as the product itself, which justifies the extra cost.
A handmade cream will feel somewhat richer and possibly heavier. Its scent will not hang around for long because it will usually be derived from essential oils which are volatile. It may sit on the skin for half a minute or so before being absorbed. One application will usually last all day. The pot is likely to be recyclable plastic as glass is heavy for posting. It will usually be a functional rather than pretty shape, as this makes it possible to attach home-printed labels. Although the overall image is important, the emphasis is more on the quality of the contents.
A factory-made shampoo will foam plentifully. Sodium laureth sulfate is usually high up on the ingredients list. This is a definition from Wikipedia:
“Sodium laureth sulfate (SLES), also called sodium alkylethersulfate, is an anionic detergent and surfactant found in many personal care products (soaps, shampoos, toothpaste, etc.) and for industrial uses. SLES is an inexpensive and very effective foaming agent.”
SLES has received a lot of bad press over the years regarding its safety. Unfortunately the only studies I have come across that declare it to be totally safe have been funded by manufacturers of cleaning products that have a vested interest in promoting it. There is equally a lot of bad science out there that insists it is carcinogenic and causes damage to eyes, hair and skin. I don’t know what the truth is, it probably lies somewhere in the middle, but as with all chemical additives my view is that if it is not essential then why include it? The foam in shampoo is there to convince us we are washing our hair thoroughly. It contributes very little to the actual cleaning process.
New Leaf shampoos don’t contain SLES so they foam less than an off-the-shelf product. If you live in a soft-water area this won’t be a problem, but if your water is hard it may take a little while to get used to the difference. Apart from being better for you because of what they don’t contain, New Leaf natural shampoos are good because they don’t strip the hair of its important oils. You can check out the ingredients for each New Leaf shampoo, compare with your own shampoo label, and decide for yourself which you would be happier using.
There’s something special about small batch making. It is far more personal than factory production. And where a cream is made bespoke for a customer and posted on the same day, you can be sure you won’t find a fresher product.
Here are two short videos of making New Leaf Double Cream (rich moisturiser). In the first I have prepared the water-based ingredients and the oil-based ingredients separately and I am combining them in the emulsification process. The second is the finished article.
What about packaging?
It’s simply not possible to transport products from the factory to the shop shelf without involving a fair bit of packaging, usually in the form of plastic wrap and/or virgin cardboard. A handmade product that goes direct from the kitchen worktop into the mail bag can avoid excess packaging. New Leaf customers are very used to not knowing what sort of wrap their item will have. Nearly all my packaging is repurposed – I collect from friends and neighbours and I re-use boxes and padded envelopes wherever possible.
And the difference between ingredients? Generally speaking, the choice of ingredients for mass produced personal care products will be driven by potential profit margins. As long as each ingredient is deemed safe and acceptable the cheapest versions of those ingredients will always be sought. RARELY will fairtrade ethics be a consideration. RARELY will a superior quality ingredient be selected (eg: a cold-pressed organic oil as opposed to a heat extracted non-organic one). And where a good quality product is used, the quantity of it is likely to be minimal because of the cost. Cheap ingredients will be shipped from China, India or Indonesia and although they will be well certificated we are not likely to see behind the scenes to the origin of the supply chain. Back in 2016 Amnesty International put out a report “Global brands profiting from child and forced labour”. They said Unilever, Nestlé and Procter & Gamble were among nine household names contributing to labour abuse. “The world’s most popular food and household companies are selling food, cosmetics and other everyday staples containing palm oil tainted by shocking human rights abuses in Indonesia, with children as young as eight working in hazardous conditions”.
It is a sad fact that the temptation of profit very often wins out.
By contrast, I use ingredients that I know are from trusted sources. A supplier I have used for many years is Naturally Thinking. Here’s what they say about their argan oil: it “is produced by a women's cooperative that shares the profits among the local women of the Berber tribe. The cooperative has established an ecosystem reforestation project so that the supply of Argan oil will not run out and the income that is currently supporting the women will not disappear. The money is providing healthcare and education to the local women, and supporting the entire community as a whole.”
That’s enough reading for now. Let’s let the pictures tell the rest of the story: a few ingredients used in mass production and in small-batch handmade natural products.